At Hermiston High School, athletic trainer Dan Emery is appreciated every day of the school year — not just during Athletic Trainer Appreciation Month in March.

“He is unbelievably valuable to our athletic department,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said. “He is more valued than the athletic director. He does such an incredible job with his dedication and his experience in evaluating our athletes. And, he has a good relationship with our coaches.”

Emery, who is in his 18th year at Hermiston, is a full-time employee of the school district, which is not the norm for some trainers, but that allows him to be available for early morning practices and late nights with football games.

“Among Oregon high schools, only 46 to 48 percent have athletic trainers who are full-time,” Emery said. “The ones who do have them full-time are extremely blessed. A lot of people don’t realize what we do on a daily basis. The coaches, parents and athletes appreciate what we do.”

Hermiston boys basketball coach Casey Arstein had a season full of injuries, the worst in his three seasons, but Emery was able to help his players stay on the court or heal more quickly.

“Dan is one of the best around,” Arstein said. “He’s like an assistant coach. You can trust Dan — he wants the best for his athletes. He gets kids healthy without pushing it. He could be at a Division I school or in the pros. He is a plus for our program.”

During the season, basketball players Jordan Ramirez, Cole Smith and Andrew James were regulars in the training room.

“Jordan knows Dan really well,” Arstein said. “He’s had ankle problems the last three years. Dan knows what it’s like to play with an injury. He was able to give Jordan confidence.”

James, who hurt his shoulder during football, still sought treatment during basketball season so that he could play. He had surgery after the season was over.

“He does an awesome job, and he respects your body and what the coaches and your parents say,” James said. “He has gotten me through a lot. We are extremely fortunate to have him.”

Other than treatment, James said it’s the little things like taping wrists and ankles before practices, and being a confidant, that makes Emery special.

“As a person and a mentor, the communication between him and the kids is important,” James said. “He’s almost like a guidance counselor too.”

Other plans

Emery, 52, grew up in Luverne, Minn., where he played football and basketball at Luverne High School.

“I wanted to be a coach,” Emery said. “Our high school coach used to tape us because we didn’t have a trainer. I took a class the summer of my sophomore year of college, and that’s when I learned what an athletic trainer did. I get to help people and stay involved in athletics. I don’t have to sit in an office all day.”

Emery played two years of basketball at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn., before transferring to the University of South Dakota, where he completed his undergraduate work.

He did his graduate work at San Jose State, then worked at the university as a graduate assistant.

From there, he worked at Menlo College and Portland State before landing at Hermiston.

“Hermiston is very similar to where I grew up in Minnesota,” Emery said. “A small town, a one-school town. It doesn’t take an hour to drive 5 miles. We have no weather here. Minnesota has blizzards, floods and tornados. We have wind. We have it pretty good here.”

Immediate help

While athletic trainers cannot order an X-ray or read an X-ray, their training and experience is invaluable.

“It’s more beneficial to see us sometimes,” Emery said. “There’s only so much we are trained to do, but I can diagnose most ankle sprains by looking at them and hearing what happened. Our background is more orthopedic and emergency medicine. Most times, kids don’t need to spend $400 to have their ankle looked at.”

Emery also has an intern program, where students can learn the the basics of the job. Some have even gone on to join the profession.

“I have had four or five kids go on to be athletic trainers, and a couple are physical therapists,” Emery said. “(Former wrestler) Jeremy Larson is a dentist. He’s my dentist.”

A rewarding job

Emery tries not to play favorites when it comes to sports, but there is one that rises to the top.

“I like working basketball games,” he said. “There is no weather. I’m not sitting at a doubleheader when it’s 38 degrees.”

There also are the athletes “who are a daily grind,” but for the most part, Emery enjoys coming to work every day. In fact, he has only missed two days of work in 18 years.

“Ten years ago, I had a player who sprained his ankle pretty bad on a Tuesday,” Emery said. “On Friday, we had a big game against a team with the best player in the league. He did the work, but I helped get him there.”

Those types of results make the job rewarding.

And, he remembers the athletes after they have moved on.

“I was telling someone the other day that I had three wrestlers at the national tournament,” he said. “The fun part with high school kids is that you get a new crop every year. It’s fun to see the kids come in as freshmen and leave as seniors. You see them finish their careers, and some move on (to college). It’s kind of that proud parent moment.”

The move to the Mid-Columbia Conference has been a pleasant one for Emery. While he still is getting to know everyone, he is impressed.

“The other MCC trainers let you know if anything happened to a JV kid,” he said. “They send you a text. That’s a nice thing to have, because by the time you talk to the kid, they are on their third version of the story. That never happened in my 17 years working with Oregon schools.

“Another nice aspect, is everywhere we have gone, they set us up with water, cups and ice. No one in Oregon does that. I have always done it for other schools. It’s the little things like that you appreciate.”

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